Family Support Program resumes at SOS Patras Centre

September 23, 2020

School was back this week for children attending the daily after-school program at the SOS Learning and Education Centre in Patras, which is adapting to new COVID conditions.

When Greece’s first COVID-19 outbreak occurred in the city of Patras in March, the Family Support Program run by SOS Children’s Villages Greece was suspended, as schools shut and the city went into lockdown.

Unable to run their after-school program for children from disadvantaged families, the staff developed an action plan to ensure they could continue to provide support during an unprecedented situation.

SOS National Director, George Protopapas says it was imperative for staff to maintain contact with the children, especially as many of their parents were affected by the shutdown.

SOS’s social worker and psychologist established weekly telephone meetings with the families to support their wellbeing, which transitioned to live counselling sessions for those with tablets or laptops. 

Teachers prepared revision material and homework and students also received online educational material, quizzes, games, online books and videos to continue their learning activities. Material was printed and handed out to parents who didn’t have access to the internet or a computer or tablet. 

A website was created giving high school students access to educational material, home activities, psycho-pedagogical activities, as well as links to information about COVID-19, free books, movies and theater screenings.

Online literature and mathematics classes were held for high school students through a VoIP application, which was also used for adolescent counselling sessions to address mental health issues.

The program resumed onsite in late May for high school students who, following the summer break, were the first to return to the centre this week. 

“After a particularly challenging period, it was wonderful to see the children return to their classes with great enthusiasm.”

Mr Protopapas says the curriculum changes and additional safety measures had presented logistical challenges but this time they were well prepared for the return to classroom teaching and counselling services. 

“COVID has changed the way the centre operates, with class sizes limited to six students and furniture rearranged to ensure adequate physical distancing between children,” he says. 

“Desks, chairs and public areas are disinfected immediately after the departure of pupils and prior to the arrival of the next groups and temperatures are checked when they enter the building.” 

The centre is now providing individually packaged meals and masks for children and staff.

A Second Home: How SOS is helping one family experiencing hardship

“Soula” was on the verge of a breakdown when she was referred to the SOS Family Support Program in Patras in September 2019. A sudden separation had left her struggling with sole custody of four children aged 4-16, with no financial support.  

Through the program, the family received food and material support with clothing and school supplies and the children joined the educational program and creative activities at the centre.

Soula was connected with Municipal services to enrol the youngest child in a public nursery school so that she could find a morning job. The children participated in group counselling sessions, while their mother received weekly psychological support.

Mr Protopapas says the children have thrived through the special classes and workshops offered at the centre.

“The boy has a great interest for computers, which he discovered through the workshops. The older girl became more social and made more friends through the groups in which she participates, while the younger one has an interest in drawing, which she exercises in the creative workshops,” he says.

During the lockdown earlier this year, SOS provided the family with two tablets, which helped continue the counselling and psychological support and educational activities.

“The Centre has become an important frame of reference for the family, the children consider it a second home and feel comfortable expressing their feelings, fears and sharing their dreams with our staff,” Mr Protopapas says.

“The mother continues the counselling support and openly talks about how much we helped her at a critical turning point of her life, where she had got to the point of thinking about committing suicide.” 

The Patras Learning and Education Centre opened in February 2019. The Hellenic Initiative Australia is supporting the Family Support Program for a second year.